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Q&A: The Creators of “ELIMINATION GAME” Talk Live Death and Osama bin Laden

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Things are about to go ballistic on the ELIMINATION GAME set at an old textiles factory in the sedate and leafy Melbourne suburb of Armadale when Fango arrives to survey the situation and take in the atmosphere of this remake of the Ozploitation favorite TURKEY SHOOT—which is surprisingly convivial.

Considering that the crew is about to re-enact one of the key makeup effects highlights (exploding a certain human body part) of the 1982 film, which has also been variously known as ESCAPE 2000 and BLOOD CAMP THATCHER in territories outside its country of origin, this visit was always going to be very bloody interesting. Initially known as TURKEY SHOOT RELOADED, the new film (in theaters and on VOD tomorrow, June 26 from Entertainment One) has had that last word deleted from its local title. It has also dispensed with the camp attitude and literal camp setting of its progenitor, which was directed by prolific Aussie genre filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith and produced by the similarly productive Antony I. Ginnane, who is the driving force behind this second reimagining of one of his early hits, after PATRICK (rechristened PATRICK: EVIL AWAKENS for its U.S. release last year).

This time, the action takes place on a much larger global playing field, as TURKEY SHOOT is now also the title of the most popular live reality show on the planet, and the story has been infused with a broader and sharper sense of politics. In line with the original’s MOST DANGEROUS GAME influence, however, the body count remains, as two slick TV hosts (played by Suzannah McDonald and Juan Jackson) continually update us, and as the narrative unfurls, we also go behind the scenes to witness the political wrangling that makes the show such a ratings smash. The running man at the center of ELIMINATION GAME is ex-soldier Rick Tyler, played by Dominic Purcell, who has risen from Australian soaps to American TV’s PRISON BREAK and features such as BLADE: TRINITY, THE GRAVEDANCERS and the remake of STRAW DOGS.

FANGORIA talks TURKEY over lunch with writer/director Jon Hewitt and his co-writer, actress and life partner Belinda McClory (THE MATRIX), who epitomizes evil in ELIMINATION GAME as TV executive Meredith Baxter. They attack the subject with gusto and negligible prompting:

JON HEWITT: I love the original film, although I think it’s a product of its time, but it had all the elements to reinvent into a whole new story. Personally, I’d never want to remake something like PATRICK, because I believe that’s perfect the way it is. Not that they didn’t do an awesome job, but with TURKEY SHOOT, time hasn’t been kind to it in that way. It’s incredibly camp now, and some of its effects are a bit cheesy and hokey. I love that, but I don’t want to replicate it. I just want to recapture that film’s spirit, because at that time it was like, “F**king hell!” what with bodies blowing up, crazy lesbian sex and all sorts of weird shit. What the f**k is going on with Alph the werewolf? It seemed to be about media and the state of the world.

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It gave us a great opportunity to reach back to movies like THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, THE RUNNING MAN and NAKED PREY, and cook up something for this dude who just wants to keep going and going from everyone who’s trying to get him. Subtextually, it is about the state of the world now and how we’re constantly at war. The news media has the franchise of live death on television, and the invasion of Third World countries for the entertainment of First World countries. That’s all bubbling under the surface here. Also, there are gestures toward the first film, like when Thatcher [Michael Craig] gets blown up. We always wanted to have an exploding head done as an old-style effect.

We also wanted to kill Osama bin Laden; the original draft of the script was written a few years ago, before ZERO DARK THIRTY and bin Laden being taken out. Our deal was that the Navy SEALs got him in 2001, but it was kept secret so we could perpetrate wars against Afghanistan and Iraq into the future. I personally believed that if we had Osama bin Laden’s head exploding in the first minute of the film, we’d do $100 million at the U.S. box office. It would be something where everyone would go, “F**k!” and rush to see it. The American public has been denied righteous vengeance against that motherf**ker. I don’t think the American psyche is ever going to recover, because they didn’t get to see that guy drawn and quartered in the town square.

BELINDA McCLORY: Anyway, we had to change it.

HEWITT: Yes, that’s ancient history now.

McCLORY: We changed it so we could cast Roger Ward [who played head prison guard Ritter in the original].

HEWITT: He’s a dictator in this one. Carmen Duncan plays the American president and Ginnane shows up as Australasian president Charles Varrick. Roger hasn’t really aged, and he looks amazing. He looks exactly like his face on a painting on the back wall of his office, which is actually from a picture from 1981 combined with specific reference to Idi Amin’s personal military dress sense. It was important to have a few gestures to the original; certainly in the casting. [For a peek at what happens to Ward in the new film, click here.]

We just wanted to write a script that was in tune with the spirit of the original, not necessarily trying to ape that movie. There isn’t an Alph, but there are a few freaks in this one. Well, not freaks, but Ian Roberts [who plays Haaken] is 6-feet-eight and built like a brick shithouse. You look at him…

McCLORY: And see a force of nature.

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HEWITT: Chan Griffin, who plays one of the shooters, has freakish abilities. He can do a back flip, kick the lights out and end up back on his feet. Just shit like that.

FANGORIA: How are you a freak in it, Belinda?

McCLORY: Well, I play the head of the network and it’s my game show, so we wanted to comment on the media domination of the world. I guess I’m a female Rupert Murdoch figure. I’m an evil adversary.

HEWITT: Meredith Baxter is the executive producer of the most successful show on Earth. Her tireless character is going to take this show into the stratosphere. The idea is that sometime in the future, television is syndicated around a world that is covered by a digital footprint. Walls have broken down, so a show can go out live across the planet. It just comes down to the chutzpah and the marketing that gets people watching it all around the world.

FANG: Was there anything that influenced ELIMINATION GAME besides the previous film?

McCLORY: We went to Fantastic Fest as guests of the Wachowskis when NINJA ASSASSIN was premiering, and Jon and I were in our hotel room at the Four Seasons with like an hour to get ready. We had the TV on in the background, and there was a show featuring parents and their small children—and I mean small, like 6 to 10. It was about child cage fighting, and there were interviews with the parents who were like [adopts American accent], “I think Michael can win this one, he can go the distance, blah blah blah.” And then they had Michael literally cage fighting and knocking other children unconscious. I just said to Jon, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing here?” Then the whole TURKEY SHOOT project came in, and that’s kind of where we got the idea to make it a game show—live death on television.

FANG: Original director Brian Trenchard-Smith is on this film as an executive producer; what kind of impact has he had on your filmmaking in general?

HEWITT: Brian Trenchard-Smith is an old hero of mine, and has to accept the responsibility of making me want to make movies. I mean, STONE and THE MAN FROM HONG KONG are the two most influential films on me as a director. I saw MAN FROM HONG KONG when I was 14 or 15 and STONE when I was 15, very close to each other. I thought they were incredible, because they seemed to be filled with real people—real Aussies!

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