Quint talks with Simon Oakes, the head of Hammer Films, about LET ME IN and much more, including the return of Quatermass!
Published at: Sept. 8, 2010, 1:59 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a brief chat with the new head of Hammer Films, Mr. Simon Oakes. I wish I could sit down with the man for an hour and just discuss the new direction of the company, the return of one of the most famous names in genre filmmaking, but I only got 10 minutes during the hustle and bustle craze of Comic-Con.
When I first heard Hammer was coming back I imagined a direct-to-DVD remake factory and just kind of shrugged. But it appears Hammer’s on track to really live up to its legend. They are making real movies, not just genre schlock (I hope they dive a little into that at some point, though… I mean, what’s Hammer without the red paint?) with real actors and talent behind the camera.
LET ME IN is their flagship title, an English language remake of the brilliant Swedish vampire story LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, but they also have The Resident, which brings Christopher Lee back to Hammer as well as Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter film THE WOMAN IN BLACK, being written by KICK-ASS’s Jane Goldman.
At Comic-Con Oakes announced that Hammer will be bringing a couple of their titles out and sprucing them up, including the Quatermass films and The Seven Golden Vampires. That’s an awesome movie, by the way. Seek it out if you haven’t seen it. It’s a Shaw Brothers/Hammer co-production featuring Peter Cushing, Dracula and awesome ‘70s Shaw Bros Kung-Fu!
Anyway, we cover a lot of ground for such a short interview. We start with me gushing over his new announcement about a remake of The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (aka Seven Brothers Meet Dracula). Hope you dig the chat!
Quint: Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is one of my favorites. It’s just a crazy, ridiculous, fun movie.
Simon Oakes: I know, I know! They were just going “Shit, how do we do this? We’ve got no money! How?” It’s just such a great concept. It’s great.
Quint: That was a Shaw Brothers and Hammer co-production, so you had all the best kung-fu fun of the Shaw Brothers and the horror identity of Hammer… I guess we don’t have a real Shaw Brothers like studio anymore.
Simon Oakes: Not anymore. Also, because the world is different. The guys at Hammer go “We are going to make this film in China. Well, we can’t go there… Hong Kong? Okay, let’s go talk to Run Run Shaw,” you know? It’s like now you just go and do it.
Quint: I know I had some skepticism when I first heard Hammer was coming back just because towards the end of the first run it got really cheap where it just felt like a shadow of what it was before.
Simon Oakes: Sure, I agree.
Quint: And you hear people coming back, I guess because of the cynical nature of fickle fan boys like me who are like “It’s probably somebody who doesn’t understand it, doesn’t respect it, doesn’t know what they’re doing,” but obviously with the stuff that you showed today…. It seems like you are wanting to put your foot forward with something really respectful.
Simon Oakes: We are respectful. We are setting our mark. Look, it’s difficult; first off all you are right… I would say when we started this whole enterprise I started with “Well what won’t I do?” So I’m not going to make gore-nography torture porn… I think frightening films could be done cleverly with no blood at all. Hitchcock was one of the great horror directors you could argue, I mean unbelievable. And JAWS is a monster movie for Christ’s sake!
So once we had established that, then it was a question of saying “If Hammer was alive today and had continued, what would it be like?” It became a little old fashioned by the end and you had all of those urban myth films that came out of the states, like THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST, Hammer looked out of date overnight.
So really it was like “Okay, what would Hammer 2.0 be?” Looked at all of the genres within Hammer and there’s such a rich scene, because you have these mini-Hitchcocks in the late fifties and then you had the classic vampire stuff that Chris(topher Lee) did and then you had the QUATERMASS things with the sci-fi and it was so out there, you know? And then the monster movies and then the walking dead with The Mummy. We started to establish that these were things I could focus on and say “Right, we’ve got to find the right artist, the right writer, the right story, the right filmmakers to fit these different things” and basically LET ME IN… I had read the novel and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN came out at the time when we were thinking about how to approach this particular area in a modern and interesting way. The rest is history.
We were committed to doing this way before the film suddenly became what it is, but we have always had the courage of our convictions, because I always felt “Listen, this was such an amazing book, such an amazing film, such a great story, but it’s still a Swedish vampire story in the Swedish language that it would only get to a limited audience.” It would clearly get to guys like you, but not necessarily to guys like other people in different parts of the world, in America, different parts of the states.
Quint: The mall-goers.
Simon Oakes: The mall guy, yeah. Why not tell that story to them as well? That was really important to us and then THE WOMAN IN BLACK, again, taking a classic ghost story and then having Jane Goldman bring her unique talent to it and say “Right, that book is about less is more, what would it look like? What would happen if the kids were in the marsh? How would they…” So she threw all of her imagination into that, which is great.
Then once we had proven ourselves to be serious about what we are doing and paying homage to the past and not forgetting the legacy, because the legacy is incredibly important with Hammer, then start looking at the back catalog. Then saying “Okay, this is our approach to THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, what would Quatermass be like today as a chief scientist? Where would he sit in the pantheon of Hammer characters? What would he be doing today?”
Remember THE PIT. We have seen that a million times before, now. It’s been replicated in lots of different films. It’s like “aliens come down, they land in a city, they go out and go ‘this is fucked up,” but now we’ve got a character like Quatermass who is almost like a mixture of Bourne and Dr. Who and Bond. He’s like a guy who is an establishment figure, but he’s always on the outside, because he’s always the person who’s had to go the extra mile to tell it as it is and that was what Nigel Neal… or Tom Kneale, Nigel Kneale was his writing name, that was always his vision. This was a character who is basically an iconoclast, who would say “This is a fucked up situation, we need to do something about it.”
So so far, so good and I know that people were cynical. To me, it was really important to come to Comic Con, really important to come.
Quint: When you have the announcements of getting Daniel Radcliffe in the next movie, that you brought Jane Goldman on to write it, it’s like you are bringing in A listers. It’s clear you’re saying “Oh, we are not going to be the direct to video version of this. We are not going to be the low rent version, we are going to take this stuff seriously.” I think that’s a big thing, but I have to say one of my favorite things, which I only discovered fairly recently, but were the Hammer adventure movies.
Simon Oakes: Yes!
Quint: Especially THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER. The ones with Christopher Lee… That’s something that I love about Hammer and I don’t know if you guys have any plans to try to do a version of this, but I love that they had their cultivated stars. I guess the modern day equivalent is…
Simon Oakes: Judd Apatow maybe with his comedians.
Quint: Judd Apatow with his comedians, Scorsese and DiCaprio and that…
Simon Oakes: We may well do that. I think if I could spend the rest of my life working with Chloe [Moretz] and with Kodi [McPhee], I would be a happy guy… And Richard [Jenkins]… But also one of the things we are doing is we are doing a Hammer Theater of Horror. We are doing live theater.
Quint: Oh really? That’s cool.
Simon Oakes: I feel I can build a repertory company of actors in theater more easily than movies now. In those days you could just do a movie, do a movie, do a movie, and they were under contract. You can’t do that any more, because the agents won’t allow you to do that. I think in theater we can do a lot more of that and we are doing a lot of stuff outside the film stuff to create intellectual property for Hammer, so we are doing a new original theater stuff with Hammer Theater of Horror and new novels with Random House and stuff like that, so yeah I think you can do more with that, but certainly the Hammer heroines… I love the idea of Chloe, I love the idea of Hillary Swank… I like the actors, people like Richard, people like…
Quint: Great character actors. That’s what Hammer was. You have your Peter Cushings and your Christopher Lees…
Simon Oakes: It’s all the other people now… And they were both seriously great actors.
Quint: They were genuine actors.
Simon Oakes: And Chris is still alive and working.
Quint: You got him in one of the movies, don’t you?
Simon Oakes: Yeah, THE RESIDENT. He’s amazing.
Quint: How was that? Bringing Christopher Lee back to Hammer. Was he into it?
Simon Oakes: It was brilliant. He was so into it. Also, I didn’t really overplay that. I said, “Look, read the script Chris and see what you think.” He loved the script, so I said, “Will you do it?” “Yeah, I love what you are doing.” He’s fine. He’s good.
Quint: I was at his wrap party on Lord of the Rings and they cut blooper reel and it was from when he’s impaled on the spike and suddenly just looks at the camera, lifts his head and says “35 years ago, I looked up from this position and saw Peter Cushing, now I look up and see Peter Jackson. Uggghh…”
Simon Oakes: (laughs)
Quint: I think it’s really fascinating that you guys are coming back in such a strong way.
Simon Oakes: Thank you for that and also we need your support and your colleague gave us a great review on LET ME IN and listen, there was a lot of cynicism, you are right. I was just in my tunnel for a year and a half or two years and went “I’m just going to ignore all of this shit and come up with the pictures, come up with the properties, come out with LET ME IN, THE WOMAN IN BLACK and THE RESIDENT…”
I’ve got this fantastic picture called THE QUIET ONES, which is about a group of scientists who create a poltergeist in Cambridge in the early 70’s. Instead of working on DNA, they got them creating a poltergeist. DNA is like easy, they’ve got brains like that, so there are like “We are going to fucking create a poltergeist, that’s just much more interesting.” We’ve got some really great stuff coming up.
Quint: I like hearing that you guys have some original stuff, too, because I think if you were just coming out with just remakes, people wouldn’t be as on board. Speaking for myself I just don’t want to see the studio turn into a remake factory. The old Hammer was guilty of remakes, too, and there were a lot of adaptations with the Poe stories and stuff like that, so there is that kind of precedence, you can revisit older stories…
Simon Oakes: You can revisit older stories, but as long as you have a new take on them, otherwise what’s the point?
I’m posting this from London, which feels oddly serendipitous. Guess the universe has a plan after all!
At the end of the day I’m a big horror fan and if there’s a genre studio out there making quality films that’s something to celebrate. It seems like Hammer is taking all the right steps so far. I hope to bring you more word on their progress as they continue to develop new titles and dust off some classics.
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