Q&A: “SHIVER” Director Julian Richards
What can be said about serial killers on screen that hasn’t been said before? The subgenre has become a difficult one to break ground in nowadays, and rather than focus on motivation, many directors have turned to gimmicks, often at the expense of the audience patience and interest. But sometimes, the challenge has inspired ambitious directors to prove this well isn’t dried up just yet, and one such filmmaker is SHIVER’s Julian Richards.
Out now on DVD from Image Entertainment, SHIVER tells the story of murderer Franklin Rood (WOLF CREEK’s John Jarratt), who becomes obsessed with and lustful toward the one victim (HALLOWEEN stalwart Danielle Harris) who outsmarted her way from his clutches. Also starring STARSHIP TROOPERS’ Casper Van Dien and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE’s Rae Dawn Chong, SHIVER attempts to dig into its villain’s perspective while also telling a shocking and unpredictable story. Speaking to FANGORIA, British director Richards shed some light on his new killer thriller.
FANGORIA: What inspired you to take on SHIVER?
JULIAN RICHARDS: Well, SHIVER is my first U.S. production. I didn’t have the ambition to work in the States when this project came along, but I read the script and found it to be a real page-turner from beginning to end. It was very engaging and full of suspense, and it had an interesting female lead who really goes on a journey. At the same time, I was faced with the dilemma that the screenplay was based on a book [by Michael Prescott, writing as Brian Harper] that came out in the early ’90s and the adaptation itself was written a decade or so ago, so it felt quite old-fashioned. So I knew therefore that I would have to work to bring it up to date as much as I possibly could.
FANG: The serial-killer subgenre has been tackled time and time again, in some cases almost iconically so. Was there anything that you specifically wanted to do with SHIVER to make it stand out?
RICHARDS: With this story, the one really big difference is the protagonist. The character of Wendy Alden, played by Danielle Harris, and her journey was quite unique. She has the ordeal of surviving an attack from a perfect killer, and then having him fall in love with her, abduct her and hold her hostage in a house in the woods. I just thought it was about her journey, her fight to survive and, ultimately, her empowerment. I found that a very interesting aspect.
As for the murderer himself, he has traits that are very familiar within the genre in the sense that he had a rough childhood, he’d been bullied, he hasn’t had much success with women and he wants to get revenge on them all. But at the same time, what John Jarratt did with that role was quite interesting and unexpected, especially given the kind of person John is in real life. He really did, in the context of a character actor, something quite different with that part.
FANG: The film features a strong cast; how were you able to assemble such a collection of dependable genre performers?
RICHARDS: The producer, Robert D. Weinbach, who also wrote the screenplay, is actually quite a formidable character. If you present him with an obstacle, he’ll find a way around it and get things done. He’s quite good at working with managers, agents and actors. Also, John Jarratt was already on board the project before I had signed on as director.
My first audition was for Wendy Alden. I was in the UK, and we auditioned Danielle Harris over Skype, and I thought she was perfect for the part. I was familiar with her from her HALLOWEEN films, but from meeting her and seeing what kind of person she is in real life, she just felt right for the role of Wendy.
We actually had Luke Goss on board as Detective Delgado when we were originally going to shoot the film in Canada. When we had to move the production to the U.S. [specifically Portland, OR], and thus postpone it for a couple of months, we lost Luke. While we were looking for a new actor to play Delgado, Robert came up to me and said, “Well, Casper Van Dien is available.” Of course, I remembered him from STARSHIP TROOPERS. We met him in Santa Monica and gave him the part, and I have to say I had a lot of fun working with Casper. He’s a very energetic actor with lots of ideas, and he’s very generous.
It was a real pleasure working with him and Danielle. Danielle is very focused and can get it in one take, which is what you need when you’re on a very tight schedule. The one actress in the cast who was a real curiosity for me was Rae Dawn Chong, as I’d always been a fan of her in my teens and early 20s. To find myself on set with her was quite interesting.
FANG: The film’s color palette is quite unconventional, and feels more classically informed than in most modern horror films. Did that stem from any specific inspirations?
RICHARDS: I tend to favor high-contrast, desaturated color schemes when I’m doing a film, especially one of this nature. But the thing about this story is that some of it takes place inside the serial killer’s mind, through flashbacks. [Those scenes] needed a very specific look to delineate them from the real timeline. So in the grade, we used all kinds of effects to give those scenes a different quality.
Also, something that was evident in the script was that the film felt quite giallo. When you think of those films, you always think of [Dario] Argento and the rich colors in his films, like INFERNO, DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA. So there was an element of that creeping into SHIVER, but I didn’t want to push that too far because giallo is a little dated. I wanted to hint at that, but I didn’t want to make a full-on giallo film.
FANG: When developing a character as driven and pathological as Franklin Rood, there’s a certain amount of care that has to be taken to make sure he feels both real and consistent in his patterns. How did you work with Jarratt to flesh out his patterns and body language?
RICHARDS: Well, John took his lead from the screenplay. The part had lots of dialogue, and when you think of serial killers from horror films, they’re often shadowy, silent types. They appear and disappear, so you don’t really get to know them. In SHIVER, it’s the complete opposite. When you initially see Rood, it’s in his face: there’s no hiding that he’s not just a normal guy in a diner.
The angle we took on Rood was that in the script, there always seemed to be a competition between his character and that of Wendy, in terms of who the protagonist is and whose point of view the story is being told from. It would have been obvious to tell the story from Wendy’s viewpoint, and to have her never really see Rood. But the audience actually has the opportunity to view scenes with Rood that don’t even involve Wendy. The film becomes more character-driven, in a way, and more drama-centric than straightforward horror.
FANG: What do you have currently in development? Anything actively going on at the moment?
RICHARDS: I recently had two of my previous films released in the U.S. on DVD: One is a crime thriller called SILENT CRY, and the other is an occult thriller called DARKLANDS. I’m hoping to shoot another film in Portland called SUICIDE SOLUTION, which is about a stepfather who goes on a murder spree.